salmon cakes, mothers-in-law, and whisky?

I recently got married (and changed my name from Kim Goodfriend to Kim Laidlaw, in the off chance that there was any confusion) and my new mother-in-law and her partner, who I've only met on one other occasion, came to visit us...all the way from Edinburgh, Scotland.

Now, I adore my mother-in-law, but I was a little intimidated when she announced that she only likes to eat Italian and "normal" food. What would I ever find to prepare for her? How could I possibly wow her with my culinary prowess? What if I made something she hated? Was my imagination going off the deep end?

The solution came with a trip to the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market on the first Saturday of their stay. We arrived early and made an initial pass through the crowd, just to get our bearings. She was enthralled with all the fruits and vegetables and foodstuffs she'd never seen before. We left the guys on a bench near the bay and went off on our second pass, sniffing this, trying that, and all the while, I kept asking her what she liked or disliked. In this way, I managed to cobble together my first dinner for my new mother-in-law.

First stop--and a pretty safe bet--was Shogun Fish, who display their freshly caught salmon and halibut every Saturday. We chose two thick gorgeous, incredibly fresh, deeply red, wild salmon fillets. I mean, who doesn't love salmon?*

*Note: Um, actually I don't. In fact, I rarely like salmon. I particularly loathe farm-raised salmon which I find flavorless. However, when it's fresh it can be absolutely delicious. And I've become quite a fan of smoked salmon in recent years. Which is a good thing, because my husband and his entire family are Scottish. And they love smoked salmon. It's like a national dish. Second only to fried things. And maybe haggis. Oh, wait, and whisky. Yes, whisky is a food group. But I digress...


We also gathered just-dug-up fingerling potatoes, fragrant heirloom tomatoes, wild arugula (aka rocket as it is called in the UK), crunchy lemon cucumbers, figs, and a decadent array of cupcakes from Miette.

Dinner was a raving, smashing success (can you hear the musical crescendo in the background?). We started with sliced figs topped with triple-cream cheese, basil, and aged balsamic. The main event included grilled salmon simply dressed in fresh oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper, along with roasted fingerling potatoes and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, and arugula. All of it was washed down with a gorgeous bottle of Navarro Edelzwicker.

Unfortunately, in my fumbling, nervous, slightly overwhelmed culinary haze, I never managed to get out the camera to capture said delicious amazing dinner. But, we were left with a good chunk of leftover salmon, given that I have a knack for over-purchasing. Which brings me to my very own mother (I think I'm establishing a theme here)...

One of my childhood faves, and one of my mom's specialties, is salmon croquettes. Yeah, I know I already blasted salmon. But this is Fried Salmon. In cakes. With sauce. And it truly is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to use up your leftover salmon.

Salmon Croquettes

1 1/2 cups cooked salmon
1 egg, separated
1 handful saltines or water crackers, crushed to bits
1 tablespoon aioli or mayo
Oil for frying

Make sure that the salmon is free of any bones or skin, then put it in a large bowl, breaking it up into large flakes with your fingers. Add the egg yolk, cracker bits, aioli and salt and pepper to taste, then gently stir together to combine. In a separate bowl, whip the egg white to medium peaks (don't overwhip!). Fold the egg white into the salmon mixture. Gently form the salmon mixture into patties, about 2 inches in diameter.

In a large frying pan, heat about 1/4 cup of oil over medium-high heat. Carefully add the salmon cakes and fry, turning once, until crisp and golden on both sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to drain, then serve with the aioli.

Sort-of Aioli

1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup light olive oil or a mixture of olive oil and canola oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Note: This is not garlic aioli which is why I call it sort of aioli because in some strict foodcamps that is the only aioli there is. However, I don't really happen to like garlic (with a few specific exceptions) so if you want to add it, go right ahead.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and mustard. Add a pinch of salt. Slowly add the oil, very slowly, a dribble at a time, while whisking. Make sure that all of the oil is incorporated into the yolk before adding more. The mixture will continue to thicken the more oil you add. If it gets too thick, add a bit of the lemon juice. As you get near the end, you will find you can add the oil a bit more quickly. Once you have added all of the oil, whisk in the lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve alongside the salmon cakes.

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